“What you put into life is what you get out of it.”
At the age of 26, I qualified as a CIMA accountant. It was no easy journey as I had to work hard through the most difficult of circumstances. I found out that my dad only had weeks to live about a fortnight before sitting my strategic exams. But I knew that I had to keep on persevering not just for myself, but for him too.
Since my CIMA journey started the spirit of never giving up always stayed with me. I always wanted to be a great example for younger women, amongst all races, that with hard work and perseverance, you can achieve anything. The only recipe you will ever need is passion and drive.
After I qualified as a CIMA accountant, I quickly realised that I didn’t want to do pure management accounting, but rather more finance business partnering based roles. Luckily I came into the industry at a perfect time and landed my first FBP role in a leading recruitment company in 2008. Business partnering wasn’t as imminent then. It was new, fresh, exciting and a fantastic opportunity.
Whilst there was never any ‘fixed’ definition as to what a FBP actually was, I quickly came to learn that it wasn’t just about knowing the numbers. It was just as - if not more - important to have a knack for managing stakeholders and getting them on side. The same rings true today.
You may be wondering why a qualified accountant based in a finance business partnering role should care about getting people on side. It’s simple: this is 2020.
Thanks to technology we are no longer living in an era of transactional accounting. It has never been more important to be financial advisors and help the business drive crucial decisions.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of speaking at The Future of Finance and CFO Summit and presented my ideas as to what makes an effective finance business partner. Some of the key areas I touched upon were:
I am a believer that if you are not liked, no one will want to hear what you have to say, no matter how valuable your input maybe. In order to have impact, it is essential to build and maintain sound relationships with all your peers.
- Relationships: “No significant learning can occur, without significant relationships.” (James Comer)
Not all stakeholders will be the same. Some may be tough and some may be easier than others. It is important to adapt your style accordingly. If a stakeholder appears to be difficult, spend some time to try and understand their requirements and agree on a way forward to help give them the information and support they require. They may require more engagement and sometimes that is necessary to break down barriers. However, don’t mistake this for ignoring the ‘easier’ stakeholders. They may not require more engagement, but they definitely require maintenance.
I am sure you recall times where stakeholders have tested your patience in the busiest of times… but it is vital that you remain patient and communicate with them to ensure that they are on your radar and you may have to get back to them at a later date. A friendly email can go a long way and give you the space to get on with more high priority requests in a calm and orderly fashion.
It is so tempting to send emails and use the phone as a convenient and quick way of communicating with your stakeholders. However, where possible, it is a must to have as many face to face interactions as possible. Impact is far greater when someone can see body language and allow for points to be elaborated.
- Knowing the difference between ‘tough’ and ‘easy’ stakeholders
Business partnering is about negotiation. Yes, we are there to support our business and give them what they need, but we have to be realistic about what we can do and by when. Sometimes other priorities take over and things need to be pushed back. However, nothing should be pushed back if it means that the other party experiences an adverse monetary impact because of it.
Personality is like a magnetic force that attracts people to you. People want to listen to you, learn from you and want to work with you. To effectively business partner, you need to get the divisions on side so that they are more willing to buy into your ideas and advice.
Attitude is also key. Part of having a great personality is all about having the right attitude. To constantly be solution-orientated - as opposed to finding barriers to progress - shows a real degree of team work and ‘coming together’ as one to achieve the same goal.
All of these ideologies of being an effective business partner were very well received and I was approached by high flying finance professionals with question after question. It was a liberating feeling, especially since I was the youngest female speaker from an ethnic background. To be heard really felt like I had a place at the table as my industry wanted to hear what I had to say. To top it off, I ended the night coming second as ‘Woman of The Year’ in Finance - global award.
Outside of my day job, I am an ambassador for the charity, Working Options Group. The charity is focused on bettering the lives of youths aged 14-19 and I travel across London facilitating motivational talks amongst students to help them realise their potential. I am also a member of another charity known as The Girls’ Network and actively mentor young girls on all areas of their lives.
After Joining Vocalink MasterCard as head of international operations and technology finance, I was elected to join the MasterCard Women Leadership Network, leading the London Operations and Technology guild. I have made some valuable contributions such as suggesting the importance of reversed balanced mentoring whereby those less senior are able to mentor the executives, whilst ensuring that there is an even balance across genders. I feel that this is a great way of emphasising the importance of gender inclusion and equality. As part of the WLN, I will be speaking at the Women Leadership Summit in Vienna later this year on Empowering Working Mothers.
I have always wanted to be representative of what a working mother could achieve and break the stereotype that women with children only work part time or stay at home with very little ambition. To add, being a young woman, a woman of colour working in a male dominated industry has only added to the power of my message of never giving up on yourself.
It has been my mission to show the world that women can do so much more than that and it is a mission that I am going to complete.
Ranu Sharma is head of international operations and technology finance at Vocalink MasterCard
- Always aim for a ‘win-win’